Bringing in gender quotas in the Liberal party is not just right it’s smart politics too – The Guardian

Posted: March 31, 2021 at 4:04 am

If prime minister Scott Morrison wants a circuit-breaker for the gendered political turmoil besetting his precarious Coalition government, unilaterally declaring gender quotas for federal Coalition MPs would be a masterstroke.

Even Coalition voters on balance now support quotas for women (48% supporting and 43% against) according to the latest Essential poll, with net support among voters overall doubling from +6% in 2019 to +12% in this weeks poll.

Note, Im suggesting he should bring in gender quotas, not quotas for women. Benefits flow from diversity, not women. If three-quarters of Coalition MPs in Canberra were women instead of men as is the case today, gender quotas would rebalance things in the direction of men.

Changing the rhetoric from quotas for women to gender quotas makes it harder for troglodytes to block this sensible extension of the quota approach the Coalition routinely uses elsewhere for example, the longstanding quota ensuring the Nationals get a fair share of ministers on the frontbench.

Quota opponents could be further disarmed if the policy applied only to winnable seats as they open up in the future, making sitting members safe from change.

Morrison could also take up the shift evident internationally from 50/50 quotas to the more flexible 40/40/20 approach adopted, for example, by global law firms Baker MacKenzie in 2019 and Norton Rose Fulbright in 2020.

This 40% women, 40% men, with 20% open approach to leadership appointments not only gives organisations a bit of elbow room in achieving gender diversity but makes room for other kinds of diversity too.

The Male Champions of Change group of Australian business leaders advocated this in its 40:40:20 For Gender Balance report in 2019, aimed to help organisations reap the diversity dividend now clear in management research.

The report provides hard numbers on the superior results achieved by organisations not dominated by one gender. It shows how to overcome the problem of merit being defined by, and reinforcing, the status quo.

Crucially, this is a report endorsed by 255 leading Australian directors and chief executives, including Commonwealth Bank CEO Matt Comyn, Wesfarmers managing director Rob Scott and Golf Australia CEO James Sutherland to name a few.

There would be a fair degree of overlap between the Male Champions of Change group and the Coalitions donor list come election time. If gender quotas are good enough for them and their organisations, why not for the federal Coalition?

Finally, this is a change which can be picked up and announced right away. Morrison has an action deficit. Declaring the beginning of the gender quota era in the Coalition, using the Male Champions of Change report as his template, would show him actually doing something, not just dodging, delaying and announcing another process.

Stubbornness stands in the way of Morrison making this necessary and politically sensible move.

Guardian Australia political editor Katharine Murphy last week noted the prime ministers practice of almost exclusively addressing men at risk of voting Labor in his public rhetoric. It is reminiscent of former US president Donald Trumps 2020 presidential election tactic. Trump lost.

As with Trump, its unlikely to be enough for Morrison to hold on to men at risk of voting Labor when he is at risk, because of his one-sided handling of the last few weeks, of losing an equal or bigger number of women who voted Liberal at the 2019 federal election.

Nor is it as though this is a new problem. The broad church Liberal party of which John Howard used to boast even as he worked to narrow it, is no more.

Instead of being Liberals, small l liberal moderates now sit as independents between government and opposition MPs on parliaments crossbench: Helen Haines (Indi), Zali Steggall (Warringah) and Rebekha Sharkie (Mayo) so far. Similar moderates are eyeing Wentworth, Hughes, Calare and Groom.

A contemporary Robert Menzies would do a strategic appreciation of the situation and realise he had to bring the small l liberals back into the tent before the cumulative seat loss became fatal.

Looking back on the formation of the Liberals in 1944, Menzies singled out two people for special praise. One was May Couchman, Victorian president of the Australian Womens National League whose members Menzies said did far more electoral work than most men. Over a six-month period, Couchman folded the League into the Liberal Partys Womens Section, significantly strengthening Menzies fledgeling political creation.

Morrison may be no Menzies but, as a former state party secretary and in 2019 victor in an apparently unwinnable federal election, he is not without some political smarts.

Putting his prime ministerial prestige on the line to get the Liberal partys state branches to adopt 40/40/20 gender quotas, and to urge the Nationals to do the same, is not just the right thing to do. It would be very smart politics too.

Chris Wallace is an associate professor at the 50/50 Foundation, Faculty of Business Government and Law, University of Canberra. She tweets at @c_s_wallace

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Bringing in gender quotas in the Liberal party is not just right it's smart politics too - The Guardian

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